Evelyn Steven and team Specialized-lululemon’s win at the Fleche Wallonne Femmes 2012 highlights how team strategy, and not raw power, is the most important in cycling. The American Steven took the top podium finish ahead of last year and four time Fleche winner Marianne Vos as well as other prominent fixtures of international women’s cycling.
The story of the day is not about powerful riders destroying their rivals, though they had their moments at the start of the race, but the superb strategy employed by team Specilized in sending Canadian rider Clara Hughes, who fittingly won rider of the day award, into the front after the first climb up the Mur de Huy. The time trial specialist upped the pace and destroyed what was left of the peloton, isolating Steven and Vos to battle for the win. The strategy paid off as Stevens outlasted Vos at the top of the climb for the win.
Specialized-lululemon’s win is just one of the examples of how a team with a superbly executed strategy can beat other teams with better cyclists in their lineup.
To the uninitiated, cycling is nothing but a group of riders pounding their legs at their Shimano pedals while trying to outlast each other for the win. Contrary to this notion, cycling is a game of strategy where master tacticians work at the background trying to figure out how to get their riders into the best position.
Cycling is like playing chess with the riders as the pieces, matching in-game strategy with the other teams and waiting to see who will blink first.
There are a lot of things at play during a bike race aside from the picturesque podium finish that we read at Road Magazine or Velo News after the race. There is the swarm of bodies pushing and jostling for position at the peloton, or domestiques trying to keep their team leaders safe and fresh until the final climb, or the constant back and forth attacks and counter attacks between teams just to test who has fresh legs and who are suffering. Cycling is always about knowing your strengths and your opponents’ weaknesses so you can time your attack well.
Just like chess, cycling also thrives in sacrificing pieces just to gain a more favorable position. It is not uncommon for a team with podium hopes to send some riders in front early in the race to control the pace to their liking. These riders will stay in front for as long as their legs can propel their Campagnolo bikes forward, trying to ward off attacks and reign in breakaways. They’ll only relax and drift to the back of the group, sore and completely wasted, when their leaders are ready to mount a serious attack.
A serious cycling strategy often involves sacrificing the energy of every member of the team just to guide the team’s podium hope out in front for the final push. Every team member must work according to the team strategy from the start of the race until the end, and although we only see one rider raising his or her hands at the finish line, every win is always considered a team victory.